This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” —Genesis 32:22-28, NLT
Jacob’s family had already crossed the river, leaving him alone in his camp. The immigrant life includes a lot of loneliness, and when we have no one else to wrestle with, we often go back to wrestling with God. In his own camp, resisting the lordship of God, Jacob continued his useless fight to assert his own will. He wanted God’s help and blessing, but not at the cost of his personal autonomy.
His story presents an ironic comedy. God let the patheric Jacob “win,” because he had already decided to bless the descendents of Abraham. With his destiny already fixed, Jacob ridiculously continued to insist that God do what God had already predestined for him.
God will do many things to help us or to orietn us, but violating our free will does not fit into God’s plans. When God could do nothing with the ridiculous wrestler–Jacob only lacked a mask to fill out the profile– with a single touch God dislocated Jacob’s hip and declared him the ironic winner. God also left him with a trophy (his injury) to remind him of the fight and conceded the champion’s title, “Israel” (in Hebrew, “he wrestles with God.”
God holds the immigrant in strong arms. We can rest or wrestle: strong in the arms of glorious destiny, or struggling against them. It doesn’t seem wise to assume that, God will bless us just like the specially chosen one, Jacob, no matter what we do. God could also let us go to follow our own way, taking roads that will carry us far from the will of God, perhaps permanently. Grave wounds will result that will mark our steps for the rest of our lives. The trophies of our wrestling against God will only prove our foolishness. The worst thing that can happen would be for God to let us “win” over God’s desire to bless us, leaving us to wrestle alone, with ourselves–a match no one can win.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.